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Every day, decisions about social, economic, and environmental issues are made based on what people believe and how they feel at any given moment. Growing one’s self-awareness of emotions and learning how to manage them is an integral part of navigating challenges effectively, especially in addiction treatment and recovery. 

This article will lay the foundation for what emotions are and offer suggestions for how a person can start to manage their emotions to enhance their recovery experience.

What Are Emotions?

People have been trying to answer this complicated question for a long time. Among Western scientists, it remains a highly disputed field of inquiry, and disagreements abound. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that every human being has emotions that change depending on personal and external circumstances. 

A Working Definition 

Although a framework for understanding emotions is still being refined, the concept can generally be understood as “A conscious mental reaction subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 

6 Universal Emotions 

There are six emotions that are believed to be shared by humanity:  

#1. Disgust

#2. Sadness

#3. Happiness

#4. Fear

#5. Anger

#6. Surprise

These emotions tend to be associated with certain facial expressions. Body language, gestures, and tone of voice can also indicate that person is experiencing one of these emotions. According to a study titled “Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal,”  the communication of these internal emotional states may not be biologically determined. Instead, they may be shaped by culture and socialization. 

Four Features of All Emotions 

Emotions give rise to physiological, behavioral, and cognitive responses based on one’s personal circumstances and external environment. For instance, a person who is new to a 12-Step program may struggle to express their feelings to strangers. They might worry about their performance and nervousness, causing them to stumble over their words or shut down completely. 

Some researchers have proposed four core features of all emotional states, including: 

#1. Valence: This refers to the contrasting emotions that people feel, such as love and hate or contentedness and displeasure. 

#2. Scalability: Scalability is the intensity of the emotion and the degree of physiological arousal that a person experiences in response to the stimulus triggering the emotion. 

#3. Persistence: This core feature describes the duration of that physiological response. A person may experience an increase in heart rate and blood pressure for several minutes following the stimulus. Cognitive aspects like anxiety or depression can persist for more extended periods of time.

#4. Generalization:  Generalization is the ability for a learned emotional response to one stimulus to bias subsequent behavioral responses to different stimuli. For instance, a person may behave a certain in response to situations that remind them of a traumatic experience.  

How Can Emotions Impact Cognition?

The emotions a person experiences in the moment can impact the way they understand and process information. Some research has found that cognitive processes are affected by positive and negative emotions, such as: 

  • Attention
  • Reasoning 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Learning and memory 

The rational part of the brain can become clouded with irrational thoughts and disorienting physical symptoms when negative emotions kick in. For example, individuals in addiction treatment may become so overwhelmed with a fear of failure that they relapse. On the other hand, research also suggests that negative emotions like stress can assist learning and memory depending on the intensity and duration.

Manage Your Emotions Or They Will Manage You

One aspect of having emotional intelligence is identifying and exercising controlling your own emotions, assessing the state of others, and responding appropriately. Achieving this level of self-awareness and applying it in practice can be a challenge. Developing these skills is an essential part of addiction recovery. 

The following are some tips to help you build your capacity to manage your emotions better: 

  • Think twice, speak once. A good rule of thumb is to remind yourself to think first before replying to others. It sounds simple, but often people say things they regret in the heat of the moment. 
  • Tell yourself positive things. Positive affirmations can be powerful when anxious thoughts cloud your ability to relax or focus on a task. 
  • Practice active listening. Sometimes listening to others is all you need to do. Spend time listening to what others have to say without feeling like you need to share emotionally-charged opinions.  
  • Focus on progress. Since emotions can make it difficult to see things clearly, reorienting your focus on solutions rather than the source of your emotional disequilibrium can tap into the logical part of your brain. 
  • Accept where you are. Being motivated and ambitious are honorable qualities. However, you are not a self-improvement project. You are human. Strike a balance between accepting where you are right now while working towards your goals.

The diversity of human emotions makes life an interesting and stimulating experience. It also makes life challenging, particularly for those who are recovering from addiction. Learning how to combat negative emotions and interact effectively with others is a vital part of the recovery process. West Coast Recovery Centers is an outpatient treatment center for addiction and co-occurring disorders in Oceanside, CA. Our program is certified through the Department of Healthcare Services of the State of California and nationally accredited through the Joint Commission. We understand the emotional toll that addiction can take. We take an approach to addiction treatment that is flexible and individualized. Clients are given the discretion to participate in making decisions regarding their treatment plans. They can choose from a number of clinical and holistic modalities that aim to resolve emotional issues and develop skills to manage them. Call us today for more information at (760) 492-6509

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